Saturday, April 14, 2007

Dinner Party Menus

Ding's having a dinner party tomorrow night. I think my invitation got lost in the mail.

I just came back from a party. It was a white 20 somethings party, so there was a lot of standing in conversation circles, drinks in hand. There were some snacks on a table. This is cultural. Met some very charming people. Somebody commented that Imus getting fired was the networks 'caving in to pressure.' Funny, I thought it was the networks distancing themselves from a racist, misogynistic pariah. Interesting to hear that perspective, though, wouldn't have occurred to me.

It's been a while since I've been to one of those white 20 somethings parties. As a thirty something now, I tend to go to dinner parties where you DON'T invite everyone you know, where you sit in a chair (or several), which is nice, and the night consists of at least three distinct acts. You know, Act I: the apperatif in the living room, Act II: the dinner in the dining room, ooh, Act III: let's have tea and dessert on the patio....

Filipino family parties don't have well defined acts, the way 30 something dinner parties do. Culturally, we are obliged to invite everyone we know, and then we cook everything we know how to cook. Which is why, Orange, the party buffet food is always cold. Because it got cold while other stuff was being cooked.

To prevent the dreaded cold buffet, my mama bought chaffing dishes, a trick she learned from Kuya Bubot, a caterer. At Auntie R's the food's not cold but only because there's a bunch of family that can turn out fresh food faster than it can get cold (and not step on each other in the kitchen, I don't know how they do it.

Anyway, I'm a dude, so there are low expectations when I have people over for dinner at my place, which is a blessing. I won't throw a three act dinner party, but I refuse to throw a big Filipino buffet by myself. In fact, I was reading Ding's post (above) when I realized I only have a handful of menus that I use. Here they are:

The Pinoy Picnic (no utensils necessary!)
BBQ Skewers (beef, chicken, baby zucchini, onions, cherry tomatoes)

The Seafood Boil
Crab, shrimp, clams, mussels, sausage, corn, and red potatoes
Crusty bread

mussels steamed in either white wine or beer, with sausages. (I should develop a provençal recipe)
Crusty bread and a caesar salad

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a ginger rice porridge, topped with toasted garlic and chives
Braised baby bok choy

Fondue Party
Broccoli, chicken tenderloins, meatballs, li'l smokies, veggie sticks, boiled potatoes, and, yes, bread cubes. We learned about fondue from the Food Network, so we didn't know that people only did bread cubes exclusively. Fondue party is the only menu which comes with an obligatory dessert: chocolate, of course, with strawberries and cubes of cake (angel food, banana bread, whatever).

Lumpia Party
Lumpiang shangai and banana
Chicken scallopini OR grilled pinoy burgers (made with onions and soy sauce)
Steamed rice
Diced tomatoes
Cucumber sticks with soy sauce

Fish tacos
Pan fried, breaded tilapia
Shredded cabbage, diced tomatoes and white onions and cilantro
Sour cream
Toasty corn tortillas.

Cioppino, caesar salad, crusty bread.

That's it! I've taken requests before, for chicken adobo, beef and bok choy chow mein, in which case I just switch out the main course from the Lumpia Party.

I should develop a basic roast chicken, potatoes, and seasonal vegetable menu, because it's always elegant, even though everybody does it. Also, you can always swap out the roast chicken for broiled salmon. This was what we had at Francophone night on Thursday; the first course was melon cubes with black pepper and prosciutto. Delicious.

See? Simple. Obviously, I don't have a lot in the dessert area. People want you to slave over dessert, but they don't turn their nose up at Trader Joe's thawed out cheesecake.

Ok, before you start bugging me to invite you over for one of these, I should tell you that I don't clean my house except for special occasions. Honestly, I might like theorizing about these menus that actually executing them.

Update: As I was drifting off to sleep last night, I was thinking about pork tenderloin menu. Or pork chops. Or pot roast with bananas. Or seared tuna.


Orange said...

Most informative!

Kathryn said...

Perhaps you can offer your insight on something that has been bugging me lately that you deal with in your post.

I recently joined the faculty at Elite U in the East. I am mexican and anglo from Tx. I am extremly uncomfortable at these stand around and hold drinks events. I have never really felt out of sorts at social events until now. I'm not perfectly sociable but for a sciencey smartypants not too bad. I have been trying to decide if this is due to the overwhelming whiteness factor, my lack of old-money upbringing, or general maturity. Do you grow into these parties or are you born to them. Must I (Will I ever) enjoy them or suffer thru? if I enjoy them at all am I giving in to the man? (mostly jk there at the end)

john patrick said...


Parties are cultural. I'm not sure if you'll ever warm up to stand/hold drinks.

However, I do think that as you get to know people, you'll start getting invitations to the three act dinner parties. It will depend on where you find community. My advice is to hang out with Caribbean people; good food, good music, good drinks.

It's not clear to me that white people enjoy the stand/hold drink parties. I think they're trying to recreate a crowded cocktail party, like intermission at the opera. Or maybe it's an outgrowth of teenage get-drunk-as-fast-as-possible. I don't know.

I'm no expert on white american culture. I've been here all my life, but I'm still learning. Last night I learned about malt speckled eggs.